Traffic on Portland Street at the intersection with Woodlawn Road and Baker Drive on Wednesday. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

The municipality wants to make Portland Street and Cole Harbour Road in Dartmouth better for buses, pedestrians, and possibly cyclists — and it’s looking for feedback.

Halifax is working on a functional plan for the nine-kilometre stretch of road between the intersection of Alderney Drive, Prince Albert Road, and Portland Street and the intersection of Cole Harbour Road and Bissett Road, which it’s calling the the Portland Street/Cole Harbour Road corridor.

It’s the same exercise the municipality is going through on Herring Cove Road, where it’s in the later stages of a plan to add new sidewalks and bus and bike lanes on that corridor at an estimated cost of more than $20 million.

The portion of Portland Street and Cole Harbour Road being studied for the functional plan. — Photo: HRM Credit: HRM

Bus lanes are central to this functional plan as well, with both the Integrated Mobility Plan and the Rapid Transit Strategy identifying the road as a key component of a faster transit network for the municipality.

“The priority of this project is to add bus lanes between Portland Hills Terminal and downtown Dartmouth,” transportation planning engineer Harrison McGrath said in an interview.

That’s going to be easier in some sections than others. The road is four lanes wide between Portland Hills Terminal and the Circumferential, for instance, but only two lanes between Gaston Road and Alderney Drive.

The route map in Halifax Transit’s new Rapid Transit Plan, with the red line running on Portland Street. Credit: contributed

Because of that road width, from Gaston Road to downtown, the plan is for a bus lane on one side, running inbound. From Gaston Road to Portland Hills, the plan is for bus lanes on either side. McGrath said that could mean widening the road or removing private vehicle traffic lanes, and those will be the options presented.

McGrath said the plan will also look at prioritizing pedestrians on the corridor. Unlike Herring Cove Road, there are sidewalks on both sides for the full stretch (with the exception of the sketchy one-sided sidewalk over the Circumferential). But McGrath said they can be improved through widened boulevards between sidewalks and vehicle lanes, potentially with some added tree cover.

“Additional separation between pedestrians and heavy vehicle traffic can just provide more comfort for pedestrians,” McGrath said.

“And we’ll also be putting a lot of focus into the pedestrian crossings, both at signalized intersections and non-signalized intersections.”

One thing that wasn’t initially contemplated as part of the functional planning process was cycling infrastructure. McGrath noted that the corridor isn’t identified in the Integrated Mobility Plan as a cycling route, nor is it on the municipality’s active transportation priority plan.

But in a question and answer session after at a public meeting last week, McGrath said it was the dominant theme. About 160 people virtually attended the meeting, and the presentation portion is posted online. The question and answer period went on for more than an hour after the presentation and McGrath said the municipality will be posting all the questions and answers on the project page.

“We’ve received a lot of feedback that people would like to see cycling infrastructure included in the project,” McGrath said.

McGrath said it would be difficult for the full stretch, especially where it gets more narrow closer to downtown Dartmouth, but the project team is looking at options, including a better bridge over the highway.

“We’ve heard that it is important to a lot of people so we’ll definitely be looking at a few options for cycling infrastructure, to see what’s possible,” he said. “So protected cycling lanes will be something that we look at. We may also look at multi-use paths.”

The Halifax Cycling Coalition is hoping to push more of that feedback. Executive director Meghan Doucette is urging cyclists to fill out the municipality’s survey and contact the councillors along the route (Sam Austin, Tony Mancini, Becky Kent, and Trish Purdy) to let them know they’re looking for protected, dedicated bike lanes.

“We don’t advocate for painted bike lanes so we definitely want to see fully-protected bike lanes that would have some type of physical protection, such as concrete curbs, bollards, planters, something along those lines, and we would like to see that be continuous throughout the entire corridor,” Doucette said in an interview.

Doucette said a multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians wouldn’t be ideal:

I find when you take people cycling off the road and you mix them with people walking and rolling on a multi-use pathway, you’re taking the danger away from the people cycling and removing the barrier for them as the moving vehicles, but then you’re creating a barrier or a discomfort, or lack of feeling of safety for the people walking. So it’s not really a great solution for anyone. It doesn’t prioritize people using active modes of transportation; it really prioritizes keeping that roadway space for vehicles in the vehicle lanes and kind of mushing together the people using active transportation on one kind of typically fairly narrow pathway.

The city’s 17-question online survey asks about citizens’ commuter and recreational travel habits on the road — which segment of the road they use, what mode of transportation they use, how often, and where they’re going.

The survey closes next Wednesday, April 21.

McGrath said the consultant on the project, engineering firm WSP, will incorporate feedback from the survey and the public meeting into design options. Those design options will be presented to the public this summer, and then the consultant will use that feedback to create the functional plan, with a preferred design. McGrath said the plan is to get it before council by the end of the year.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. What’s missing from the cycling plans on this route and the Bedford highway and the Herring Cove corridors as well are facilities to encourage mixed-mode cycle & transit travel. This would require serious attention to the provision of all-day (i.e., commuter-friendly) secure bike parking facilities at intervals along the corridor. Cyclists could live a few km from the route, and shift modes partway between home and work.

    Right now, the transit’s two-bikes per bus rack would be insufficient if there were even three cyclists wanting to travel at the same time…